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The Uses of Writing in the 'Dark Ages' from Late Antiquity to the Age of Charlemagne & Beyond - HIS00066M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Mary Garrison
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

The course will provide an integrated introduction to selected themes in the history of education, communication, Latin literacy, book-making and palaeography, mainly in the centuries between the end of the western Roman Empire and the Carolingian Renaissance, but with some consideration of later developments. The course will offer insight into the cultural setting of Latin learning in the post Roman world and will also introduce students to the physical form in which historical and literary evidence survives and the material and institutional settings which ensure its preservation.

Weekly seminars will focus on key primary texts and classic approaches to the problems raised by the texts. Topics covered may range from the roman postal system to runes and ogam, from land charters to medieval textbooks.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

The aims of this module are to:

  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation
  • Assess a range of source material and relevant secondary works; and
  • Develop students’ powers of evidence-based historical argument, both orally and in writing.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Demonstrate a knowledge of a specialist historiographical literature;
  • Present findings in an analytical framework derived from a specialist field;
  • Solve a well-defined historiographical problem using insights drawn from secondary and, where appropriate, primary sources.
  • Set out written findings using a professional scholarly apparatus.

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing (RAW) weeks during which there are no seminars, and during which students research and write a formative essay, consulting with the module tutor. Students prepare for eight seminars in all.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. Roman Foundations
  2. How the Monastery became a school
  3. The Monastery as a school, part II
  4. Ways of Reading
  5. The Insular World
  6. The Book as Treasure
  7. New forms of the book
  8. A long view


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students submit a 2,000-word formative essay in week 9.
A 4,000-word summative essay will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will typically receive written feedback on their formative essay within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative essay during their tutor’s student hours—especially during week 11, before, that is, they finalise their plans for the Summative Essay.

For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For reading during the module, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

  • Brown, Michelle. Manuscripts from the Anglo-Saxon Age. London: British Library, 2007.
  • McKitterick, Rosamund (ed.). The Uses of Literacy in Early Medieval Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
  • Dronke, Peter. Women Writers of the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.